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How to Remove Permanent Marker From Just About Anything

A child drawing on a man.
Jelena Stanojkovic/Shutterstock.com

Permanent marker doesn’t have to leave a permanent stain. With a few cleaning tricks and some ingredients you probably already have, you can remove those “permanent” marks in no time!

It’s seriously frustrating when you (or someone smaller) get permanent marker on something you didn’t intend to. Fortunately, permanent marker isn’t all that permanent. With a few trusty cleaning solutions, you can usually get rid of those pesky ink stains without damaging what’s underneath.

How to Remove Permanent Marker From Clothing

A toddler's clothes covered in marker stains.

Removing permanent marker stains from clothing is a bit of a tricky balancing act. You need a solvent that’s strong enough to dissolve the stain but that also won’t damage or bleach the fabric.

A product containing a relatively high concentration of ethyl or isopropyl alcohol, like hand sanitizer or plain old rubbing alcohol, is your best bet. Permanent marker often contains different alcohols and oil-based substances, so an alcohol-based cleaning product can help break it down.

Tip: Always test any product on an inconspicuous area of the fabric first to ensure it won’t cause any damage.

If you’re using hand sanitizer, follow these steps:

  1. Squirt a dime-size amount of hand sanitizer on the stain.
  2. Gently work the gel in a circular motion.
  3. Blot with a towel, and then repeat if necessary.
  4. Rinse thoroughly.

Purell Advanced Hand Sanitizer Refreshing Gel, Clean Scent, 1 Liter Pump Bottle

Kills germs and is also a secret weapon for removing marker stains.

Follow these steps if you’re using rubbing alcohol:

  1. Soak the corner of a rag or paper towel in rubbing alcohol.
  2. Dab it on and around the stain.
  3. Repeat with clean sections of the rag or paper towel as necessary.
  4. Rinse thoroughly.

Dealmed Isopropyl Rubbing Alcohol 70% USP

Breaks down the ingredients in permanent marker.

How to Remove Permanent Marker From Walls

A little girl drawing on a wall with a marker.
Anna Kraynova/Shutterstock.com

One of the most common places that permanent marker tends to end up (especially for people with kids) is on walls. Removing these marks, however, requires a little caution to ensure the paint isn’t stripped away along with the marker ink.

For the most part, isopropyl alcohol works just as well on walls as it does on clothing. However, it’s a good idea to test it on an inconspicuous area of your wall first just to make sure it won’t remove the paint. The process is also pretty similar to that of removing marker from clothing:

  1. Soak the corner of a rag or paper towel in rubbing alcohol.
  2. Wipe the stain, starting at the edges. Use just enough pressure to get the ink to start lifting away.
  3. Repeat with clean sections of the rag or paper towel, as necessary.
  4. Wipe again with a clean, damp cloth when finished.

When removing marker from walls, just be careful not to rub the surface too vigorously to avoid scratching off the paint. This is the main advantage of using plain alcohol, rather than a stronger chemical or abrasive: it’s less likely to remove the underlying paint.

How to Remove Permanent Marker From Wood

A child squatting on a hardwood floor with a marker.
Sviatlana Yankouskaya/Shuttserstock.com

Whether it’s an antique wooden cabinet or hardwood flooring, finding a permanent marker stain on precious wood can be incredibly frustrating. The same as with fabric, it’s important to find a solution that won’t strip, bleach, or otherwise damage the underlying surface while taking care of the stain.

Luckily, rubbing alcohol works just as well on wood as it does on fabric. The removal process is similar, too:

  1. Soak the corner of a cleaning rag or paper towel in rubbing alcohol.
  2. Dab it on and around the stain.
  3. Wipe with a clean, slightly damp cloth.
  4. Repeat with clean sections of the rag or paper towel as necessary.
  5. Wipe again with a clean, damp cloth to remove any remaining residue.

Another option is hairspray, but not all are created equal. Before you try to remove a stain with hairspray, check the ingredients. Higher alcohol content means it will be a more effective ink remover. However, many formulas have gone alcohol-free, as it can also dry out your hair.

If you have some hairspray that will work, just follow these quick steps:

  1. Spray the stain with a bit of hairspray.
  2. Wipe away with a clean, slightly damp cloth.
  3. Repeat as necessary.

How to Remove Permanent Marker From Carpet or Upholstery

Markers on carpet.

Lifting permanent marker stains out of carpet or upholstery is also similar to how you would do so on clothing. Again, you want to remove the stain from the soft, textile surface without bleaching or discoloring it.

One option is to tackle it just as you would clothing. Grab some rubbing alcohol or hand sanitizer, and then follow these steps:

  1. Soak the corner of a cleaning rag or paper towel in rubbing alcohol.
  2. Dab on and around the stain.
  3. Repeat with clean sections of the rag or paper towel as necessary.
  4. Wipe with a clean, damp cloth to remove any residual solvent.

Vinegar and baking soda are also a fantastic mixture for lifting stains from carpet. That classic foaming action is a great stain remover—just follow these steps:

  1. Sprinkle a layer of baking soda over the stain.
  2. Pour some white vinegar into a spray bottle and spritz some on the baking soda.
  3. Once the foaming reaction is visible, let it sit for an hour.
  4. Blot away the mixture with a clean, damp towel.
  5. If necessary, vacuum to remove any remaining baking soda clumps.

Arm & Hammer Pure Baking Soda

Another versatile and necessary ingredient for DIY cleaning hacks.

Sally's Organics Clear Glass Spray Bottles

Always good to have a few of these around for your DIY mixtures.

How to Remove Permanent Marker From Tile

Baking soda and vinegar are mixed together for all kinds of cleaning applications. Removing permanent marker from tile is a little different than the other surfaces we’ve covered, though, as it’s a lot less permeable.

To remove permanent marker from tile, you’ll have to grab something unexpected to mix with your baking soda: toothpaste. You’ll want to use one that has a pretty basic formula, though—avoid gels and specialty toothpastes.

For most common types of household tile, the following process should work:

  1. Mix equal parts toothpaste and baking soda until they form a thick paste.
  2. Apply the paste to the stain.
  3. Let it sit for 10 minutes.
  4. Wipe clean with a damp cloth.
  5. Repeat if necessary.

Colgate Cavity Protection Travel Toothpaste with Fluoride, Pack of Six

A necessary tool when attacking marker stains on tile.

Prevent Future Messes with Washable Markers

A row of colored marker tips; a boy in a blue shirt coloring with markers

Even markers that aren’t directly listed as “permanent” ink can create some pretty nasty stains on your household surfaces. If you have little ones, replacing permanent markers with the washable kind can save you a lot of time and hassle.

Washable markers typically use a water-soluble ink that easily dissolves with a basic washing. That means less stress about coloring outside the lines or kids who often get up to colorful mischief.

Crayola’s Ultra-Clean Washable Markers are an excellent starter set with 12 classic colors. You’ll get all the vibrant shades you’d expect, but they’re all made with a nontoxic, washable formula. It’s easy to remove from everything, including skin, clothes, furniture, and walls.

Crayola Ultra Clean Washable Markers

No more tough-to-remove wall murals.

For budding artists, Crayola’s Pip-Squeaks Skinnies are perfect. They have slimmer tips for more detailed drawing, and come in a pack of 64 unique colors. These will give your little Renoir plenty of creative options, without you having to worry about cleaning up a permanent mess.

Permanent marker stains don’t have to be, well, permanent. With just a few common household ingredients and some tried-and-true tips and tricks, you’ll be able to remove those pesky marker stains from anything in your home.

Amanda Prahl Amanda Prahl
Amanda Prahl is a freelance contributor to LifeSavvy. She has an MFA in dramatic writing, a BA in literature, and is a former faculty associate focusing on writing craft and history. Her articles have appeared on HowlRound, Slate, Bustle, BroadwayWorld, and ThoughtCo, among others. Read Full Bio »
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